Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Many people with eczema use products and practices that are outside Western, or conventional, medicine to help manage their symptoms. If you use these natural therapies with doctor-prescribed medications, you are using a “complementary” method to manage your eczema. If you are using natural therapies in place of conventional medicine, you are using an “alternative” method.
Before you consider any kind of treatment, it’s important to understand what triggers your eczema. Learning about the irritants in your everyday surroundings can help you better manage the condition whether you use traditional medications, alternative therapies or both.
The following complementary and alternative therapies have been studied and found to benefit certain symptoms of eczema in adults. Check with your healthcare provider if you are interested in trying alternative therapies on your child’s eczema.
Plant-Based and Other Topicals
Studies show that applying coconut oil topically reduces the amount of staph bacteria on the skin, which reduces the chance of infection.
Apply coconut oil once or twice a day to damp skin. Be sure to choose coconut oils that are “virgin” or “cold pressed.” This method of oil extraction does not use chemicals, which could further irritate skin.
Sunflower oil boosts the skin’s barrier function, helping it to retain moisture. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Apply sunflower oil to adult skin twice a day, with one of those times being shortly after bathing while skin is still wet.
Avoid using sunflower oil, if you have a known allergy to sunflower seeds.
Topical vitamin B12
Topical vitamin B12 has been shown to be effective on eczema symptoms in both adults and children. However, there is no commercial product as of this writing, and so it must be compounded. Dr. Peter Lio, a dermatologist at Chicago Integrative Eczema Center and member of the NEA Board of Directors and Scientific & Medical Advisory Council, shares this recipe for a B12 compound that was formally studied.
Topical B12 Cream
- 0.07 g cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12)
- 46 g persea gratissima Oil (avocado oil)
- 45.42 g water
- 8 g TEGO® Care PS or methyl glucose stearate (an emulsifier)
- 0.26 g potassium sorbate (a preservative)
- 0.25 g citric acid
Some have simply mixed vitamin B12 powder into a moisturizer base so that the final concentration is 0.07%.
Vitamins and Supplements
Individuals who are living with eczema or caring for loved ones with the disease sometimes turn to vitamins and nutritional supplements to try to help lower inflammation, boost the immune system or get a good night’s sleep.
Here are some common vitamins and supplements people use to manage their eczema:
- Vitamin D
- Fish Oil
- Prebiotics and Probiotics
- Primrose oil
It’s important to understand that there are few clinical studies proving the efficacy of vitamins and supplements for eczema and what works for some people might not work for others. Certain vitamins and supplements may be harmful when taken together or with prescribed medication. Always check with your healthcare provider before trying a new vitamin or supplement, and make sure they’re aware of everything you’re taking or administering to a loved one with eczema.
Ancient Wellness Systems
Integrative medicine is gaining traction in the healthcare field, specifically the idea of balancing conventional “Western” treatments with complementary “Eastern” therapies for a whole-body approach to treating eczema. Certain cultures have been practicing intricate systems of holistic healing – like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine – for thousands of years. However despite this longevity, published data with use in eczema is currently limited.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the ancient wellness practice of bringing all aspects of human health into balance. Practitioners believe in a vital life force called Qi that surges through the body, and when Qi becomes imbalanced, it can lead to illness or disease.
TCM incorporates several treatment modalities that are customized to an individual’s needs. These might include acupuncture or the practice of inserting fine needles into strategic points on the body; massage techniques like acupressure, cupping and Gua Sha; mind-body practices; and traditional Chinese herbs. TCM’s herbal arsenal includes more than 10,000 herbs, which are mainly found in the leaves, stems and roots of certain plants and can take the form of powders, liquids or topicals.
Ayurveda, which translates from Sanskrit as “knowledge of life,” is a system of medicine that began in India more than 5,000 years ago. Similar to TCM, Ayurvedic medicine seeks to bring the body into balance using a tailored set of tools that include herbs, oils, dietary changes, massage and mind-body practices like yoga and meditation.
In the Ayurvedic system, people have life forces called “doshas” that help determine what kind of mind-body imbalances they may be prone to. Ayurvedic practitioners use these doshas to describe how the body functions and how it might react to different factors, such as what you eat or what you put on your skin.
Stress is a known trigger for eczema flares. Though the exact relationship between stress and eczema is unknown, experts believe that when you experience a stressful situation, your body produces inflammation. And inflammation is an underlying cause of eczema.
Techniques may include hypnosis or biofeedback, a technique you can use to learn to control some of your body’s functions, such as your heart rate.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental exercise that involves a person concentrating on a particular object, thought or activity in order to “train their brain” to stay focused on the present moment, with no judgment, in order to achieve mental clarity and a state of emotional calmness.
Learn more about the benefits of meditation on eczema.
Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi
Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi are all examples of ancient mind-body practices that combine breathing with body movement and meditation to attain focus, clarity and relaxation. Some individuals with eczema believe these gentle exercises have helped them reduce stress, lower inflammation and distract from itch.
Tai Chi and Qigong are martial art forms that combine graceful movements with diaphragmatic breathing to help circulate vital energy called Qi in order to achieve balance between the body and mind. Yoga is rooted in Ayurveda and based on a Hindu philosophy that combines deep, slow breathing (pranayama) with a series of poses (asanas) to help achieve balance, focus and inner peace.
Acupressure and Massage
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but with physical pressure applied to certain points on the body, rather than needles, to unblock “life energy.” Limited studies show that acupressure can help relieve the symptoms of itch and lichenification, which is thick, leathery skin.
It is well known that massage helps relieve stress, which may then help reduce eczema flares. It’s important to go to a massage therapist who is accredited and experienced with working with people with non-contagious skin conditions. Prior to your appointment, check with your massage therapist to be sure the oils and lotions used will not trigger your eczema or make it worse. Bring your own if you are unsure.